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3 Reasons to Practice Decoding


You know, I did not know what decoding was until like my second year of kindergarten.  I did not learn until much later that there is a way to build fluent readers who decode with automaticity way past my second year and now to save each of you from the head ache I experienced those early years in my career let me impart on you the following:

1. What decoding is?

2. How to roll out decoding in your classroom

3.  How decoding helps to build fluent readers.


So what is decoding?

If you have spent a little time over the past month or so on this page you know that I like to talk about foundational reading based in the concepts presented in the science of reading.

Decoding is the process by which students see a word, break it down to the graphemes or sounds, then encode the word to then read it.

So let's say Susie is trying to read the word sun.  In order for her to decode the word sun she will need to have already learned the sounds /s/ /u/ /n/.  The word becomes decodable because she can use sounds she know to sound out the word. 

A student can decode many words with growing fluency when they have strong letter sound knowledge coupled with many opportunities in phonics to practice decoding words .

Student's proficiency in decoding grows over time with the more phonemes and sound patterns they. know.  They way I like to look at it in kindergarten and first grade is like this:

c -or- v (single letter sound)

vc (word family: ab, at, an et eg)

cvc (sun, pet, cod, wish, dash)

ccvc (brag, slug, clap)

cvcc (nest, rest, tent, hint)

As their knowledge of phonemes grows their ability to read words grows.  

How to roll out decoding in your classroom:

If this was a sandwich, this is the salami.  If this is avocado toast, this is the avocado.  How you make gains with students depends on the frequency, the explicitness and systematic nature of your instruction.  Here is what I do.

Decoding should and will become part of your foundational literacy block.  It is part of phonics.  Here is a pictograph of how I set up my teaching cycle each day for students to learn a new phoneme or sound pattern:

Teaching Cycle for New Phoneme

I try to replicate the same structure daily and teach a new pattern a day.  After the initial introduction of the spelling pattern and my articulation model, students see the phoneme in the following parts of phonics:

1. Blending Board Practice, where we focus on this phoneme and change the other sounds around it.  Here is an example:

2. Students reinforce the concept by reading with automaticity decodable word cards that match the the phoneme we practiced on that day:

Decodable Word Cards

After a while it is tough to keep track of the sounds I have taught too, so on the back of each of the cards I have placed reminders for me of the following:

1. What phonemes I taught previously, which one this card teaches (it is highlighted in yellow)

2. How to use the card: students to read and for you to use in dictation

3. If the word is unfamiliar to you or the students, a brief definition of the word to provide some context, which is important to support vocabulary growth.

Back Side Decodable Word Flash Cards
If you do decide to purchase this resource, you will need to print it and flip on short edge to have the flashcards line up!

3. Dictation of words to write with the sound.  I use the cards we just decoded to then practice writing decodable words.  This is a third touch point for students to solidify their newly gained knowledge!

Here is writing in action:

As you notice, I first add three color dots to the top of the paper.  This is a visual cue for my student to think about the position that he hears the sound in.  Green, first sound, yellow, middle sound, red, final sound.

I only dictate words with the sound of the day.  In the words of Kayse Morris, "Keep your main thing, the main thing!"  With sound practice this is very important to help kids solidify these concepts.

4. Contextualize the sound in sight word sentences or phrases

Whether you are creating them or not, students need to see the words in sentences that contain red words/sight words that they know.  They should be able to read the whole thing without guessing or approximation! (This is very different than popular reading curriculum!)

I often create my decodable passages or sentences on the fly, here are a couple of examples:

Sample Decodable Text

This first example, the student focuses on decoding /sh/ they have all other sounds to decode put, in, is, on, at.  The student knows red words: I, the, her.  This is a true decodable passage for this learner. 

Decodable Sentence Example
Student focuses on decoding /a/ /b/.  She can decode in, can and knows red word/sight word my, a.

5. Students go and work on an extension that reviews prior taught concepts and works on the concepts for today.

This can look like phoneme packet practice or some sort of activity that allows them a try without full on teacher support.  Oftentimes, we do sentence dictation in our journals, which can look like this:


Why Decoding Helps to Build Fluent Readers

Reading is not innate.  It is not a skill we glean.  Strong readers are built from explicit and systematic teaching scaffolded by teachers who spend a considerable amount of time in foundations: phonemic awareness and phonics.  

Decoding is one part of a very intricate system that supports word recognition.  The more opportunities children have to see letters, practice sounds, practice decoding, the more fluent they can become in automatically beginning to read without full teacher support.

6 Components of Structured Literacy

With that said, you must make a plan and stick to it!  This is not a one and done scenario.  I would argue students need more protected practice time in phonics than they do reading in reading time. 


So there you have it!  3 reasons to practice decoding DAILY in your classroom!

If you feel decoding is something you would like to add to your day, here are the two featured products in this post.  

If you have any questions, as always, reach out!




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